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Showing posts from April, 2013

What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

What I want: Harley-Davidson Iron 883

Let's be honest: you would, wouldn't you? No, stop lying. You totally would. Yes, yes you would. Look, it's just you and I in this conversation and no one else will ever know. So you can be honest. Deep down inside, you totally would. If the opportunity presented itself, you would ride a Harley and you would love it.
It's quite popular to engage in Harley hate (especially in the UK, where that hate generally extends to all cruisers), and I'll admit that I've been guilty of following the herd once or twice over the years. There's no doubt that H-D sells an image as much as it does a product and there is something ingratiating about the sort of person who is clearly putting all his/her money into the former over the latter.
We want to believe that we are better than that person. But, in truth, that superficial element exists in almost any non-essential purchase we make. The same is true of cars and bicycles and clothing and on and on; somewhere at the heart …

What I want: Honda NC700X

It's nowhere near as sexy as a Bonneville or Speedmaster. That's true. It's unlikely to be the sort of machine that would result in having to fight off the ladies. But still, it has something. A kind of geek cool, perhaps? The sexiness of efficiency and reliability.
Whatever the case, the NC700X still manages to tick that all-important box of putting a big grin on my face. It is a bike that's been on my wish list from pretty much the beginning of this whole obsessive episode –– in part because I've never seen it given a bad review. Sure, it occasionally gets labeled as slightly dull, but the articles all seem to agree that it is efficient and effective. The NC700X is capable of doing just about everything pretty well.
It gets upward of 60 mpg (1), it can actually hold its own against proper adventure bikes, it has more storage than any other motorcycle I know, and it has the respectability and presumed reliability that comes from being a Honda. This is the sort …

The long road

When I say that I was ready to give up, perhaps it would be more accurate to say I wanted to be ready to give up. I wanted to be able to. I wanted to be able to say to myself: "You know what? Forget this. Do something else; clearly this is not making you happy and you are not suited to it. Move on."
But even as I lay in bed through most of the next day I found myself still reading Hell for Leather articles online, watching just about any motorcycle video or short film I could find and posting my favourites to Tumblr (along with all the other webby stuff that amuses me), and playing that stupid daydream game of trying to determine exactly which bike I want to get.
It's those videos, especially, that really get me. That Ride Apart episode in which Jamie goes to Sequoia National Forest on a Bonneville has become a kind of life ambition –– a vision of how I want to live my life. So much so that almost any motorcycling daydream now involves my strapping Kriega gear to the ba…

Even worse than the first time

Until today I couldn't bring myself to write about failing the Mod 2 for the second time. And it still cuts me up to do so.
The Mod 2, of course, is the on-road test –– the fifth and final stage in the exhausting and farcically red-tape process of getting a motorcycle license in the United Kingdom. My first attempt at taking the test went horribly wrong and kicked me into an acute depressive episode that lasted almost the whole of the 10 days that one is required to wait before being allowed to take the test again.
Admittedly, said depressive episode was exacerbated by my not getting a job for which I had interviewed, and having my book rejected. These past few weeks have been hard, y'all. But last week the weather finally started to turn a bit. Still raining constantly, but not the bitter cold that had frozen my fingers and brain in early April.

The test was in Newport, which is a city I know a little better, and which has more recently benefitted from infrastructure spendin…

Uhm, your guess is as good as mine.

What I dream of doing

I love the MotoGeo Adventure series, hosted by Jamie Robinson. The stuff he does serves as inspiration for the daydreams I have about riding my own bike. The process of trying to get a motorcycle and the financial realities of my life often leave me feeling really discouraged and inclined to just let the whole thing slip away again, as it did when I was a teenager. But then I'll watch a video piece like this and it lights something in me.
It tortures me, as well. At the end of his pieces, Jamie always speaks to the simplistic joy of motorcycling. "Just get on a motorbike, twist the throttle, and go. Anywhere," he'll say. But that is so hard for me, seems so far away. Sometimes I think I am torturing myself by watching these sorts of things. 

What I want: Triumph Speedmaster

I started saving money for a motorcycle at the start of the year; thus far I've managed to set aside £303. At this rate, I will be able to afford a brand new Triumph Speedmaster in about eight years. But hey, a fella can dream (1).
The Speedmaster didn't used to be on my wish list of bikes. A few months ago, before I ever threw a leg over a bike, I would stare wantonly at the pictures of machines on Triumph's website. The America caught most of my attention early on, but somehow the Speedmaster got overlooked. Perhaps because I couldn't quite tell the two bikes apart. Triumph's website has a feature that allows you to do side-by-side comparisons of its bikes. Put the America and the Speedmaster next to each other and they are almost exactly the same motorcycle: same engine, same seat height, same weight, same frame, same base price, and so on.
What differences exist are extremely subtle and purely cosmetic. The America seems to have a bit more chrome and a bigger …

Missing the point

I can't remember how this came about, but the other day I found myself looking up reviews for the WK 650 TR, a 650cc Chinese-made tourer that goes under any number of names, including CF Moto. It's a nice enough looking bike, somewhat mimicking the look of a Kawasaki GTR, but probably better compared with a Honda Deauville.
And indeed, the latter comparison comes up quite often if you make the mistake of wading through internet comments about the 650 TR. Comments on Chinese bikes are almost always useless. It is generally all-caps xenophobia countered by the occasional hopeful observation that people used to say the same things about Japanese products. Whether the bikes are any good is a question that is never really answered. And by "good" what I mean is "good enough."
A brand new 650 TR will set you back £5,200 and see you covered by a two-year warranty. Over and over in internet comments you will see the sage advice that it is better to just spend that mon…

I wish I had been more aware

I got my Minnesota motorcycle endorsement in the summer of 1994. I was 18 years old and had failed to graduate high school with the rest of my friends, which meant I was feeling pretty low. The state of Minnesota is full of smart people; I read a statistic recently that 91 percent of the state's population has a high school degree. And every single one of my good friends had graduated in the top 25 of our class.
I always like to tell the story that, according to my final report card, I was ranked 416 –– despite the fact there were only 414 people in my class. And there was a kid in my class who thought he was Batman. No, really. He dressed up as Batman and referred to everyone as "citizen" (1). He graduated on time; I didn't.
So, my getting a motorcycle endorsement was primarily an act of proving to myself that I could do something: an easy, confidence-boosting win. To a certain extent, the motorcycle endorsement was an end rather than a means. I am not able now to …

Setback

The test was in Swansea; that was the first problem. Dylan Thomas once said Swansea is the place where hope goes to die. More to the point, the film Twin Town labelled it the "pretty shitty city." I have met few people from Swansea whom I have not liked, but I've equally met few people who liked going to Swansea. It is grubby, cramped and notoriously difficult to navigate. Not, then, an ideal place to take one's Module 2 exam.
Add to this the fact Swansea is a one-hour ride away from Cardiff. The day started out with a long, painfully cold trek across the erstwhile kingdom of Glamorgan. It was so cold we encountered snow in Briton Ferry, and at one point my hands froze to the point of losing all feeling. I had to pull to the side of the road to slap and clap and rub them back to life.
Just outside of Swansea we stopped for a late breakfast at one of the most depressing cafes in the British Isles. I was so put off by the lukewarm, greasy, soggy, overcooked, heatlampe…